The kidnapping of doctors and why it matters

3

That kidnapping is said to have become one of the biggest industries in Imo and Abia States is no longer news. An analysis of the tragedy of leadership and governance in these two south eastern Nigerian states is beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice to say until we fully realise the tragedy that has befallen us and the long term effects on our society, we cannot rise to the challenge of mounting a response. Aba, the “kidnapping capital” of Nigeria holds beautiful memories of a vibrant, entrepreneural city, alive with drive and energy. Even in the mid-nineties when I happened to be doing my housemanship at the same time our current Minister of Health had taken up his first consultant appointment at the new Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba, there was something special about Aba. Today, neither myself nor the minister would dare go to Aba (without the escorts of course)….

Prior to recent reports from Imo and Abia, most of the kidnapping of doctors seem to happen in Benin City. What is about these locations that has made them so risky for doctors? I am not sure whether the increasing number of reports about kidnapped doctors is reflective of a real targeting of doctors, or just that these are being reported more. And why does it matter any more or less when doctors are kidnapped – what makes them special ?. Nothing…I hear you say. I could not agree more. There is nothing more or less painful for the kidnapped person’s family, depending on whether they are a medical doctor or not.

But it matters to society, it matters a great deal.

But before we go into why it matters – read a small selection of stories that have caught my eye. These rarely take people by surprise these days as we seem to have “normalised” them.

234 Next – Former Imo commissioner kidnapped
Just two weeks after Vincent Udokwu was sacked by the “the new face of Imo” as Commissioner for Health in the state, he was  kidnapped.from his hospital, Udokwu Memorial Hospital, Amaifeke in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State. Coincidence? Who knows….Now doctors in Imo State are going on strike.

Thisday – Psychiatric Hospital Boss abducted in Benin
Management and staff of the Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Uselu, Benin City were yesterday thrown into confusion following the kidnapping of the Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Mrs.Olabisi Ihenyen along with her husband by unknown gunmen. 

Although details of the abduction are sketchy as at the time this report was published, THISDAY however, gathered that the kidnappers who abducted the CMD and her spouse while on their way to a social function in Benin, are demanding for a N50 million ransom. 

THEWILLA professor of Medicine at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTHabducted in Benin. 
Professor. A. N. Onunu was on Wednesday night, August 25, 2010, abducted by gunmen at his residence in the Evbomore area of Benin City, Edo State. THEWILL reports that the gunmen stormed the residence of the medical professor at about 8.pm. Following his kidnap, all medical doctors in UBTH have suspended their services until the professor is released unconditionally. Also, the Edo State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has directed all doctors in the state to down tools and only render emergency services to patients from 8 a.m. tomorrow (Friday), until he is returned.

Huhuonline – Five doctors were kidnapped in the space of one week in Benin. 
Benin City, medical doctors took to the streets, and marched to the palace of the Oba of Benin, Erediauwa Palace, following the trend where doctors had become primary target of kidnappers. Five doctors were kidnapped in the space of one week in Benin. Prominent among the kidnapped doctors is Dr. Osaro Osifo who was abducted by gunmen in May 2010.

Vanguard – Doctor kidnapped in Port Harcourt
Following the kidnap of a medical doctor, Princewill Obele, yesterday, in Port Harcourt his colleagues have threatened to embark on an indefinite strike if Obele is not immediately released by his abductors.

So what does this really mean for society?

A few of my colleagues who initially stayed in Aba, Benin and Port Harcourt are now moving to anywhere else they can live. Some are digging in while they have sent their families to Lagos and Abuja in search of security, while saving up to join them. What happens to the patients left behind ? To our old frail parents ?. Who cares for them ?. What does it say for our society that we accept that this happens ?. The kidnapped individuals are usually taken, often in full daylight…in one swoop, communities lose the little that they still have. I just don’t want to believe that society will not rise up…..and I am worried about what will happen when we do. Not one Nigerian that I know, not one ….has any faith in the Nigerian police. Now the Assistant Inspector General, in Zone 9, the epicentre of kidnapping in Nigeria, head-quartered in Umuahia, the capital of Abia State has been appointed the Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force.


What does it say of our society when law enforcement fails? People are left with option but to respond. The widely reported kidnapping of journalists led to widespread protests. The NPF threatened fire and brimstone….but as these things happen, its all gone quiet since.

Recently, Vanguard reported that Catholic faithful protest kidnapping in S-East – Economic activities and vehicular traffic ground to a halt in parts of Imo State for the greater part of last yesterday as Catholics stormed the streets in a peaceful prayer procession against the ills plaguing the South Eastern States.


I remember an incident in Owerri vividly. It was in 1996. A mob went around town identifying the houses of all those known to be involved in “419” aross the town, with their shining n
ew buildings marked by their fancy roof work. A young boy by the name of Innocent Ekeanyanwu had been brutally murdered allegedly for ritualistic purposes. His death was actually the straw that broke the camels back as people took the law into their own hands and went house to house knowing full well the individuals involved. The carcases of some of those buildings still litter the streets of Owerri.

We hope that people are never driven to take the law into their own hands again. But we know the people kidnapping. They live in the same communities where the doctors being kidnapped live and work. When doctors are kidnapped, a point has reached in our communities where something will have to give.

When there is so much pain in our communities….something will have to give…..

http://www.nigeriahealthwatch.com/

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (www.epiafric.com), which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Dear Chikwe,
    The pain that this whole new terrifying wave of criminality is causing is totally beyond expression! I seem to be looking in total disbelief as the entire country becomes calloused and uncaring to the ways that this new scourge of kidnapping affects us all.
    A friend of mine from schooldays lost her mom to disease and the burial was to be held in one of the modern eastern states where we had often gone as students to stay with her family. In our usual manner of supporting one another, we had already decided the cloth we were to wear and were all happily looking forward to being with our friend and supporting her to bury a well-loved, highly respected dearly departed mother-in-Israel.
    It was such a rude awakening when she told us that after the wake-keeping (to be held in Lagos) and the commendation service the next morning, we would escort the funeral cortege to the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan tollgate and wave goodbye there. She forbade us from coming to the East with her! And she was sadly right… She was unable to guarantee the safety of us because we were doctors, and a quite a few of us come from outside Nigeria!
    Society will suffer a great deal if this is allowed to go on. Doctors by nature tend not to get out there and ‘fight’ the way the journalists can and did. I am both surprised and dismayed that doctors have begun to ‘down tools’ in protest. The people who suffer most are always the women and children!
    It will take brave and courageous leadership to turn the situation around. But… we have started. Right here, right now, raising awareness and creating opportunity for dialogue helps the ‘voiceless’ to have a voice and creates grassroots demand for a better way of life, better governance and better policing.
    I pray it does not get to the point of people taking the law into their own hands as regards doing the wrong things, but I do pray that people ‘take the law into their own hands’ as it pertains to getting involved with the way they are governed and ensuring that they get what is due to them from those that they put in power!
    There are many effective ways of getting those in power to be accountable to the citizenry that are legal. We can and must continue to explore these ways and put them into practice.

    Alero Roberts

  2. Dear Chikwe,
    The pain that this whole new terrifying wave of criminality is causing is totally beyond expression! I seem to be looking in total disbelief as the entire country becomes calloused and uncaring to the ways that this new scourge of kidnapping affects us all.
    A friend of mine from schooldays lost her mom to disease and the burial was to be held in one of the modern eastern states where we had often gone as students to stay with her family. In our usual manner of supporting one another, we had already decided the cloth we were to wear and were all happily looking forward to being with our friend and supporting her to bury a well-loved, highly respected dearly departed mother-in-Israel.
    It was such a rude awakening when she told us that after the wake-keeping (to be held in Lagos) and the commendation service the next morning, we would escort the funeral cortege to the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan tollgate and wave goodbye there. She forbade us from coming to the East with her! And she was sadly right… She was unable to guarantee the safety of us because we were doctors, and a quite a few of us come from outside Nigeria!
    Society will suffer a great deal if this is allowed to go on. Doctors by nature tend not to get out there and ‘fight’ the way the journalists can and did. I am both surprised and dismayed that doctors have begun to ‘down tools’ in protest. The people who suffer most are always the women and children!
    It will take brave and courageous leadership to turn the situation around. But… we have started. Right here, right now, raising awareness and creating opportunity for dialogue helps the ‘voiceless’ to have a voice and creates grassroots demand for a better way of life, better governance and better policing.
    I pray it does not get to the point of people taking the law into their own hands as regards doing the wrong things, but I do pray that people ‘take the law into their own hands’ as it pertains to getting involved with the way they are governed and ensuring that they get what is due to them from those that they put in power!
    There are many effective ways of getting those in power to be accountable to the citizenry that are legal. We can and must continue to explore these ways and put them into practice.

    Alero Roberts

Leave A Reply